Saving Private Ryan. H.G Wells’s War of the Worlds. Romeo and Juliet. Poetry by Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Tom Leonard, John Agar, Gillian Clarke. A collection of short stories. These are the texts I studied at GCSE English, or at least the ones I can still remember. It was a varied bunch, and each text opened us up to a different area of literature. H.G Wells may not really be my thing, watching the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan on repeat in order to produce an analytic piece of coursework was intense, and Heaney’s Digging will always be one of my favourite poems. As much as school, studying and taking GCSEs isn’t something any student is likely to admit is fun at the time, my GCSE English syllabus and one particularly fantastic teacher was what put me on track for right now, graduating with a 2:1 in English Literature and heading straight into a creative writing masters.
When politics starts to interfere in matters such as school syllabuses, it’s almost never positive. Michael Gove faced recent backlash and uproar when an article claimed he had banned the hugely popular American classics To Kill A Mockingbird,Of Mice and Men and The Crucible from future GCSE English syllabuses. It was said he wanted a focus purely on English texts by English writers, classics from Shakespeare to Dickens and all of the greats that students should be reading. It raised a lot of questions, not just on the value of American literature in the English literature canon, but of Scottish, Irish and Welsh. Where would writers such as Heaney and Leonard fit into this new focus? What happened to the whole term of ‘culture poems’ I remember studying that introduced writers and nationalities from all over the world? In the same thought, as my anger rose, I remembered that it was only Top Set English that studied Shakespeare. Although I didn’t do any Steinbeck, those in lower sets did. It was almost eight years ago now (a sobering thought), but maybe it suggests there should be some reform in how GCSE syllabuses are chosen. Both Shakespeare and Steinbeck should be studied by all, not split based on who the ‘smart kids’ who might ‘get it’ are.
A split in who reads what based on ability already looks to be isolating students from a full English Literature experience, and the proposed reforms seem set to isolate even more, with a syllabus that Bethan Marshall, a senior lecturer in English at King’s College London, claims is ‘straight out of the 1940s’. Although Michael Gove has denied claims that he is specifically removing American texts from the syllabus, self-professing as an ‘Americanophile’, the strictures surrounding what can be taught are tightening. Schools will now have to teach at least one Shakespeare play, work by the Romantic poets, a 19th Century novel, poetry since 1850 and a 20th Century (post 1914) novel or drama from the British Isles. In addition, coursework and the ability to therefore revise work and to know where your grades are sitting, is gone, leaving students with only two exams at the end of year 11 to decide their fates. Knowing that I personally have always been much more successful with coursework and essays than in exams, it seems that this is yet another change that will alienate some students from the subject and only make it harder to do well.
Although I didn’t love everything I studied at GCSE, I loved the variety, and although I can see why the classics are important, and through personal choice I studied Shakespeare at least once a year between the ages of 13 and 21, these strictures just don’t sit right with me. Teachers should be able to teach the books that they love, and that they know their students will love and connect with. Gove may not hate Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird as was claimed, but his claims to be widening the selection of texts taught at GCSE don’t quite ring true. So, here at qmunicate we put our heads together and thought not only about the books we did study at GCSE or Standard Grade, but the books we wish we’d studied. For any schools looking for alternatives to the government’s newly imposed syllabus, look no further than qmunicate. With so many English Literature students in one place, we’re just as much an authority as any old Tory politician.
qmunicate suggested GCSE syllabus
- Robert Burns
- Seamus Heaney
- Carol Ann Duffy
- Edwin Morgan
- W.H Auden
- T.S Eliot
- Lemn Sissay
Novels / Short stories:
- Catcher in the Rye- J.D Salinger
- To Kill A Mockingbird- Harper Lee
- Of Mice and Men- John Steinbeck
- This Side of Paradise- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte
- 1984- George Orwell
- A Sound of Thunder- Ray Bradbury
- The Road- Cormac McCarthy
- The Color Purple- Alice Walker
- The Cement Garden- Ian McEwan
- The Harry Potter Series- J.K Rowling
- The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
- The Crucible or Death of a Salesman- Arthur Miller
- A Streetcar Named Desire- Tennessee Williams
- The Importance of Being Ernest- Oscar Wilde
- A Taste of Honey- Shelagh Delaney
- Chatroom- Enda Waslh
- The History Boys- Alan Bennett
- Waiting for Godot- Samuel Beckett